Spencer Brown has been a presence in the global dance scene since 2014, when Above & Beyond discovered his debut EP and signed him to their influential Anjunabeats label.
That first EP was released via Avicii’s Le7els imprint, with Brown touring the United States with Avicii on his 2014 True tour and going on to play major dance world festivals including Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland and Creamfields — earning fans and industry co-signs on the power of his emotive and complex progressive house productions.
But throughout this rise, there’s been one element of Brown’s life that he hasn’t publicly shared.
Six years ago, Brown realized he was gay. In the years prior he had struggled with his identity, finding solace in the famously inclusive dance scene, which of course was largely created by gay men. But as Brown started coming to his friends and family, his support system grew in tandem with his career. This past January, he released his excellent sophomore album, Stream of Consciousness.
Today (June 29), Brown takes another momentous step in his journey by coming out publicly. Here, in his own words, he writes about the turmoils and triumphs that have led him to this day.
Imagine waking up daily with unshakable self-hate without knowing why. School starts in an hour; crippling anxiety keeps you under your sheets. You stumble into the bathroom and look in the mirror; you see a person you don’t understand. You drive to school; you drown your thoughts with the loudest music you own. You try to suppress your natural feelings and emotions; you tell yourself that love is an idiotic fairytale.
This was my, and many others’, reality for over a decade, but I’ve learned that mornings don’t have to be that way.
My name is Spencer Bruno, and I am a 26-year-old San Francisco-based dance music producer, DJ, engineer, and mixer who goes by the stage name Spencer Brown. I’ve released two albums, countless EPs, and have toured the world, performing for beautiful souls across the globe. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have released music with my idols like Avicii, Above & Beyond, and deadmau5. I wake up every day with gratitude to live my dream.
My career, and the gratitude that came with it, couldn’t shine until I learned to love myself. Before loving myself, I had to accept myself. I had to come to terms with every part of myself, including my sexuality.
I am gay. It’s so much easier to say today than it was even a few years ago. While I have never publicly denied this part of me, I have also never spoken out about it. I will no longer live in fear.
I first knew I was different around puberty. I lived in Dallas, in a heteronormative community. Here were the lessons I inherited, sometimes without realizing it: Gay people were mystical creatures that existed somewhere outside of our bubble. A family includes a mom and dad. As a boy, you bring a girl to prom. Anything that was stupid was commonly coined “gay,” and anyone annoying was routinely considered a “f—-t.”
My friends were girl-obsessed, so I figured I must be too. Boobs! I’m supposed to like them, right? Maybe I’m so work-driven that my interest hasn’t developed yet. That must be it.
My only solace became dance music. As a teenager, I would sneak into shows to be a part of a beautiful community where all races, genders, sexualities, and religions came together to celebrate life. It didn’t matter who you were, and it still doesn’t. As long as you bring good energy, you are welcome. It was where I belonged, and it’s still where I belong.
Instead of taking girls on dates in high school, I focused most of my free time on my passion: producing. It was my escape from this girl-focused reality that excluded me. But after a while, I could no longer escape what was inside me. My inner self-hatred was growing, the anxiety attacks were getting more severe and the depression waves would smack me cataclysmically.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t only battling inner-demons with my sexuality; I also had OCD. For those who aren’t familiar with OCD, it’s a mental disorder where we become hyper-focused on things surrounded by uncertainty. OCD consumes those suffering in a variety of ways; for me, I hyper-focus on intrusive thoughts to the point that they interfere with my day-to-day.
I saw many psychologists and psychiatrists, where I tried talk therapy and medications; nothing seemed to work. When I was 18-years-old, I left Dallas for Duke University, and I was still uncertain about who I was and what was causing my suffering. I knew I was not straight due to my complete disinterest in girls, so I told myself I was asexual. I did not have a single openly LGBTQ+ friend at this point. Amplified by OCD, every day was a struggle.
When I was 20-years-old, my depression hit rock-bottom during a summer in Los Angeles. I vividly remember barely being able to get out of bed only to cry while looking at myself in the mirror. It crossed my mind for the first time. Am I gay? It can’t be. No way. My family will be devastated. I’ll lose my friends. I won’t have a future. I can’t have kids. What is the point of living?
That lowest, teary-eyed moment in the mirror was my turning point. It’s been six years since that point, and life has improved so drastically that I can now laugh at my mind’s obsessive predictions for a catastrophic future. Back at Duke, I finally found a therapist who helped tremendously.
It took about a year to come out to myself, then I decided to tell my closest friends and family. It took me about an hour to muster up the first strength to confide in one of my closest friends. She was unbelievably accepting, and the battle became easier. Each person I told, the support system strengthened. My gratitude deepened. The self-hate began to fade. The support cascaded.
There was finally light. I found a reason to love life. I found myself, which catalyzed my presence. I began to understand mindfulness. And I discovered myself musically.
My family and friends all welcomed my true self with open arms. The hell I devised in my head losing everything — it didn’t happen. The heteronormative society I was raised in — it’s changing for the best. My peers, the ones who’ve sent support messages and apologies for their negligence when we were kids — I forgive them all. We didn’t know any differently. And we are the generation that is making a vital change.
Looking back, I’ve been extremely lucky in many regards. As a white male, I cannot fathom the double-discrimination that the Black LBGTQ+ community faces. Pride Month has taken a decidedly different direction this year; we have all watched these horrific images of violence and inspiring images of united protest. Being an advocate for full equality, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion, I give all my heart to anybody struggling with racial inequality on top of a gender or sexuality struggle. I’ve made sure to donate to the Center for Black Equity, an organization that provides the Black LGBTQ+ community with support.
I hope this memo resonates with anyone struggling with gender or sexual identity, wherever you are in the world. What they say is true: it gets better. First and foremost, learn to love yourself, and surround yourself with those who love you for the person you are. Toxicity and self-hate do not belong in your life. If you’re looking for brothers and sisters, the dance music community welcomes you with open arms. It saved me during my darkest times, as I know it can do the same for you.
I’ve transformed from a self-hating, anxiety-ridden boy to a self-loving, grateful man. I’m learning to transform my OCD into something more productive—like perfecting my mixdowns and sound design. I’m discovering ways to pass on the support I found in the dance music community, and I’m finding so much to be thankful for. I learned to accept myself, and then I learned to love myself, and now I am blessed to be living my dream.
This Pride, it’s a blessing I’m proud to share.